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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

A Press Conference by Coalition Provisional Authority

Aired May 20, 2004 - 10:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in in Baghhad.
DANIEL SENOR, SR. ADVISER, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: Good afternoon. Sorry we are running a little late. Couple of quick announcements.

Ambassador Bremer received word earlier this week and was finalized today on something he had been working on with the World Bank and the Iraqi ministry of education, which was the largest grant issued by the bank in 30 years, a $40 million emergency grant to print new textbooks for the 2004-2005 school year here in Iraq.

The World Bank grant will finance the printing and distribution of approximately 72 million textbooks for 6 million students in all provinces for the upcoming school year. This quantity covers over 600 titles for all 12 grades of the primary and secondary system.

Criteria for the selection of textbooks to be financed by the grant give the highest priority to primary and secondary textbooks with special attention to final grades of each phase. The World Bank and ministry of education, as I said, are in the finalization stages and additional agreement for a second grant of $60 million to finance the rehabilitation of schools is being worked out.

As far as Ambassador Bremer's schedule today, he continues to work on these consultations in pursuit of the formation of the interim government. Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative in Iraq, is doing the same.

Today, Ambassador Bremer met with members of the governing council, including Mr. Jaafari. He met with Dr. Rojh (ph), who is Mr. Barzani's deputy on the Iraqi Governing Council and who is a leading Iraqi leading political figure.

And this morning Ambassador Bremer met with the Iraqi ministerial committee on national security for their regular weekly meeting on the overall security situation on the ground here in Iraq.

General Kimmitt?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEP. DIR. OF OPERATIONS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Thank you.

Good afternoon.

The coalition continues offensive operations to establish stability in Iraq in order to repair infrastructure, stimulate the economy and transfer sovereignty.

In the past 24 hours, coalition conducted 1,879 patrols, 14 offensive operations, 29 Air Force and Navy sorties, and captured 43 anti-coalition suspects. Four hundred and seventy-two detainees will be released from Abu Ghraib tomorrow beginning at 0800.

In the northern zone of operations, the mayor of Bija (ph) was attacked at his residence by a drive-by shooter two days ago. One Iraqi policeman was killed and another wounded, although the mayor is safe. The Bija (ph) local police responded and detained the assailants and have the lead for the investigation.

This afternoon 206 new police officers completed the eight-week initial entry training program at the Mosul Public Safety Academy. They will begin patrols immediately. In the north-central zone of operations yesterday, coalition forces conducted a hasty raid of four houses west of Samarra. The search resulted in four detainees and the confiscation of multiple weapons and miscellaneous Osama bin Laden paraphernalia.

Yesterday three mortar rounds impacted west of Samarra. After conducting an investigation of the impact area, Iraqi police reported that three children were injured in the attack, and one of the children died en route to the Samarra hospital.

In Baghdad, the 1st Cav conducted 521 patrols and captured 14 anti-coalition suspects.

Last night, coalition forces were patrolling in Central Baghdad when one of the helicopters came under fire from two to three enemy personnel. In the attack, one Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldier was grazed by gunfire and two insurgents were killed. The reinforcement unit was sent to the scene and they too came under fire while en route. One coalition soldier and one Iraqi were injured from hand grenade with minor injuries.

Later, while conducting a cordon-and-search for the attackers, two hand grenades were thrown at coalition soldiers, killing one coalition soldier and wounding three others. Additionally, one Iraqi interpreter was killed and one ICDC soldier was wounded.

KIMMITT: In Sadr City, the first brigade combat team of the 1st Cav has started a weapons rewards program. The program initiated on Saturday has been an overwhelming success, so much so that it has been extended two more days.

Citizens are given money for their weapons at equal to or above black market prices. And, for example, the cost of an AK-47 can actually feed a family in Sadr City for three months.

Any illegal weapons not turned in during this amnesty period will be seized forcibly upon completion. But as of 20 May, there have been over 3,200 AK-47s, 530 rocket rounds, 187 RPG launchers, 141 machine guns, and 78 tank rounds turned in. Coalition forces have paid out over $1.2 million to participants. In the western zone of operations, the security situation in the Al Anbar is improving. Fallujah remains quiet with no violations of the cease-fire since 3 May.

Two days ago in Fallujah, there were two 82-millimeter mortar systems, 15 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 3 RPK machine guns turned in as part of the heavy weapons turn-in.

Coalition forces have turned over the northern joint checkpoints to Iraqi security forces and continued to maintain a joint checkpoint on the eastern side of the city.

In Karbala yesterday morning, coalition forces came under attack by small arms fires and 10 separate RPG attacks. The units returned fire, killing six. And that evening six RPGs and small arms were fired at coalition tanks. Coalition forces returned fire resulting in three enemy killed.

Between 2330 and 0030 this morning, seven rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were fired at coalition forces in the vicinity of the Muqayeen (ph) mosque. Coalition aircraft engaged three times resulting in 10 enemy killed and two enemy wounded.

In a separate incident, enemy forces fired one rocket-propelled grenade at a coalition tank from the second floor of the Abbas shrine. Coalition forces did not return fire.

In Al Najaf yesterday at 1330, 12 to 14 mortar rounds impacted near the Najaf main Iraqi police station. At 2300 last night, an additional 11 rounds impacted near this police station. And this morning, between 0100 and 0200, a coalition base camp in the vicinity of Al Najaf was attacked again with five to six mortar rounds.

KIMMITT: There were no injuries or damage to equipment from these attacks.

In the southeastern zone of operations, the CPA building in An Nasiriyah is still under temporary withdrawal order of all non- combatants. Coalition forces and Iraqi civil defense continue to guard the CPA building and secure the bridges over the Euphrates River. Coalition forces are still patrolling the city with no signs of armed militia and no impediments to freedom of movement.

Last night, the civic (ph) house in Al Amara was attacked three times with seven mortar rounds. All explosions were outside the perimeter of the base and resulted in no coalition injuries or damage to equipment.

SENOR: And with that, we are happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Dan, Ahmed Chalabi has just given a press conference in which he said that at least some of the documents seized today were related to the oil-for-food investigation. Can you tell us the primary thrust of the reason behind this raid, and how significant a role the oil-for-food is playing? SENOR: I would refer you to the Iraqi police on that issue. They -- my understanding is they are the ones who seized any documents. It was an Iraqi-led investigation. It was an Iraqi-led raid. It was the result of Iraqi arrest warrants.

QUESTION: Ahmed Chalabi today described his relationship with the CPA as nonexistent. Your comments, please?

SENOR: Ahmed Chalabi, like many members of the governing council, has worked closely with us over a number of months as we have worked to set Iraq on a path to political sovereignty.

QUESTION: As well as describing his relationship as nonexistent, he said it was an unwarranted raid led by a former Baath Party official. Could you comment on that?

And on a slightly separate issue, although I guess it's not too separate, considering it has to do with honest people involved in the rebuilding of the country, could you comment on the -- are you troubled by records of some U.S. civilian corrections advisers who have been involved in the rebuilding of the prison system out here? There is some concern some of them have got somewhat of a checkered past. SENOR: American contractors or Iraqi contractors?

QUESTION: The second question is U.S. contractors.

SENOR: You're saying an allegation they have a checkered past?

QUESTION: Yes.

SENOR: All right, if you can show me, specifically, who you're talking about and what you're talking about, I'm happy to look into it.

On your first question. Your first question was...

QUESTION: As well as being nonexistent relationship, now he says that it was an unwarranted raid led by a former Baath Party official.

SENOR: Again, you should -- I would take that up with the Iraqi police and the Iraqi investigators and certainly the Iraqi judge, the investigative judge, who led the investigation.

SENOR: Certainly, when we are looking to put former Iraqi officials back onto the government payroll, we subject them to a very robust vetting process in order to ensure that former senior level Baathists, those with blood on their hands, those who had a hand in the regime's former crimes, do not have a role in the new government.

I'm not saying that some don't slip through the cracks. And when that's made available to us -- and we hope officials who have information like it sounds, like the incident we're referring today -- Mr. Chalabi may have information -- they should get it to us and we do our best to rectify the situation.

But, again, as to a specific individual, you should take it up with the Iraqi police.

QUESTION: We were just informed by a senior official that the raids today were part of a process that included Ambassador Bremer. Can you explain how much knowledge he had of these raids today and whether he intervened in any way?

SENOR: Ambassador Bremer has the authority for referring any central criminal court case to the central criminal court, of which there have been hundreds.

According to the public order, he is required to refer the respective cases, but that is only after there is a very serious detailed and thorough investigation that is initiated and run by the Iraqis. That has been the case with all of the several hundred, I think it's between 100 and 200 -- I can get you the exact number -- cases.

Every single one has been Iraqi-initiated, Iraqi-led -- it's been a thorough investigation. And only then will Ambassador Bremer, as a procedural matter, refer to the central criminal court. Today is -- the result of today was not inconsistent with that process.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Kimmitt, Mr. Dan Senor, my question is to Mr. Dan Senor. In case you stay in Iraq, are you -- do you have the decision to reconstruct Iraq like building bridges at the time being? Not carrying out the reconstruction of Iraq has caused traffic congestion.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): When will you start these projects, please?

SENOR: We are in the process of deploying $18.6 billion for the reconstruction of the country. That cuts across a number of areas. Obviously, training and equipping of Iraq's security forces, of which $3.2 billion is dedicated. Iraq's electrical infrastructure, which is the number one line item in the spending package, what we call the supplemental package for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Billions of dollars dedicated to the reconstruction of Iraq's oil infrastructure. And then other areas -- schools, opening schools, courts, hospitals -- are all the focus of the supplemental.

The spending has begun. In fact, we are employing many Iraqi workers and many Iraqi firms in the subcontract level in pursuit of meeting the reconstruction goals. The process has begun. Some areas will take a couple of years. Some areas are seeing very quick results. It's determined on a project-by-project basis.

QUESTION: One for you, General Kimmitt, and also Dan.

The first one, can we have a few more details about what happened yesterday with this wedding party? Specifically, you mentioned there were 2 million Iraqi and Syrian dinars. How much of each? What does that come down to in U.S. dollars? What kind of weapons specifically? Those were mentioned also in the press release. And on the second issue, about Chalabi, how many things is he being -- or group being investigated? There seems to be confusion. One has to do with oil-for-food program, and there seems to be other allegations about Iraqi -- the new Iraqi money coming out and his involvement with that. Can you specify?

SENOR: Sure. On the first question, I will say that, to my knowledge, and I just saw the list today, but to my knowledge, Mr. Chalabi is not actually being pursued for anything.

QUESTION: His group. His INC.

SENOR: I don't think the INC is either. I think there are individuals who may work for the -- individuals, a number of them.

As to the details of what they're being charged with, I would refer that to the investigative judge and to the Iraqi police. We really don't have anything to do with the investigation or the arrests.

As far as the oil-for-food program is concerned, the investigation for that is an entirely separate issue, has nothing to do with what transpired today. The oil-for-food investigation is in the hands of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, which is an independent agency, an Iraqi professional oversight agency, which does not consist of political officials. It is an impartial body.

Ambassador Bremer, several months ago, signed a public order to empower the Board of Supreme Audit to lead the Iraqi investigation for the oil-for-food scandal or fraud in the oil-for-food program.

There are three investigations going on that I'm aware of. There's a U.S. congressional investigation, there's a U.N. -- imposing its own investigation, then there's an Iraqi investigation. And the Iraqi investigation, as I said, is being led by the Board of Supreme Audit, independent, politically impartial agency.

Ambassador Bremer told them months ago they would be the lead on it, he dedicated funding for it, and has made it clear and has been very public that they would be the lead on it. He informed the governing council several months ago that the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit would be on the lead.

So I don't know what's going on, how that intersects with what happened today.

I am aware that Mr. Chalabi was looking into an investigation of his own. That may or may not be the case, but that certainly isn't the Iraqi government investigation. The Iraqi government investigation is being led by an independent professional agency, Board of Supreme Audit.

Mr. Chalabi and other members of the governing council have been aware of that for a number of months now because Ambassador Bremer told them shortly after the oil-for-food fraud and the oil-for-food program broke. QUESTION: On the question about the wedding?

KIMMITT: On the first question, the reports we have -- it says that there will be more detail coming up in later OPSUMs.

But on the weapons, several shotguns, hand guns, rifles were left on site. Several automatic AK-47s, pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns recovered from the location.

KIMMITT: In terms of the dinars, if you add it all up, it's roughly about $1,000 worth of dinar that were located on sight.

QUESTION: Iraqi dinar?

KIMMITT: Yes, Iraqi dinar.

QUESTION: Were you aware that two days ago, the museum in Nasiriyah was burned and looted possibly by the Mahdi army? And there is continued looting at sights all over the south of Iraq, including reports of about 200 looters a night at Uma (ph). And I'm wondering why this is still happening a year after the war ended and what plan you have in place to stop it?

SENOR: We have built up an Iraqi security force. If you look at all the security forces: the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the new Iraqi army, facilities protection service, and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and the Iraqi border patrol -- five security forces, some 200,000 Iraqis in security positions. We've built that up in about a year.

When Ambassador Bremer arrived here last spring, there wasn't a single Iraqi police officer on the streets. Today, we have recruited and deployed an Iraqi police force of approximately 70,000 individuals.

The building up of the Iraqi security forces plus the reinforcement role that American and coalition security forces have played has drawn down, resulted in a reduction in looting dramatically.

In the aftermath of the war, there was significant looting. Now there's virtually none. In certain areas, you've seen a direct cause- effect where we've dedicated either coalition forces or more primarily Iraqi security forces, you've seen a dramatic reduction.

Take political sabotage attacks against the electrical lines or the oil infrastructure. While we've seen a spike in the last week, you've got to understand for about the past year, past 10 months, we've seen virtually none.

Immediately after the war, electrical lines were being taken down on almost a weekly basis. We went for about 10 or 11 months, and we've seen none of it. And that's because we have built up a facilities protection service of Iraqis in the number of the tens of thousands who are now securing the electrical lines. SENOR: And that has done two things. One, it has made the marginal risk for those who engage in these attacks that much higher. When they try to take down a line, the odds of them themselves getting killed or captured have increased significantly.

Also, our investment in the electrical infrastructure has meant that there is more redundancy in the system, so the marginal benefit to those engaging in these attacks against infrastructure and the looting has gone way down, because when they try to take down a piece of infrastructure, when they try to knock down an electrical line, it either doesn't have the desired effect, electrical power doesn't go out, or our ability to put it back up increases that much more significantly.

So overall you've seen dramatic improvement. That's not to say there aren't isolated pockets where there are still problems. Certainly, in the United States of America where we have millions and millions and millions and millions of people in security positions, we still have crime.

We're still going to have areas where there is looting in Iraq.

Our goal is not perfection. Our goal is making it that much more difficult for those who engage in those attacks to complete them successfully and we've done a very good job on that. The Iraqis have done an outstanding job on that and we have to continue to improve it.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if you think the Italian army is suited to fight the Mahdi army and some of the challenges they've seen?

KIMMITT: The Italian army has done a wonderful job in Bosnia, side-by-side with us along in Kosovo and they've demonstrated equal aptitude down here in Iraq.

QUESTION: I know you can't comment on an ongoing investigation, but can you tell us how many investigations are under way relating to abuse within any military prisons at all within Iraq? And just generally, do all of the prisons operate under the same guidelines that relate to holding and interrogating prisoners? And if I could just ask you one follow up on the wedding situation.

KIMMITT: The first question, I know that we have the Major General Fay investigation ongoing. That investigation is not only going to look at the specific allegations that came up in the Taguba report and through the CID report, but it also is very, very encompassing.

KIMMITT: So, if there are other minor investigations going on at any of the other detention facilities we have, that certainly would fall under there as well.

I don't have the exact numbers about how many specific investigations are going on at any one time, but you can be assured that any time a prisoner lodges a complaint about his maltreatment or mistreatment, that starts an investigation. So, I mean, I can look up the exact number, but that number changes on a day-to-day basis.

The important thing is that the major investigations to the detention systems and the interrogation systems in the military intelligence, there's one large investigation that follows on from the CID investigation and from the Taguba investigation, and that's the Fay investigation, which is ongoing.

QUESTION: And the guidelines?

KIMMITT: The guidelines remain the Geneva Conventions.

QUESTION: And on the situation yesterday, you said that you were fairly convinced this was not what some of the Iraqis were saying -- a wedding party -- that was hit. And part of the justification was the weapons and everything else you found, but it sounds like, you know, $1,000, a few weapons, are not that unusual here. Do you have other evidence that would suggest this is definite?

KIMMITT: Yes.

QUESTION: And will there be an investigation?

KIMMITT: Well, certainly because of the interest that's been shown by the media, we're going to have an investigation. Some of the allegations have been made would cause us to go back and look at this.

But it's important to understand that this operation was not something that just fell out of sky. We had significant intelligence which caused us to conduct a military operation into the middle of the desert, 85 kilometers south of Usaba, Akeim (ph), and 25 kilometers inside from the Syrian border. A relatively barren area.

We had a group of people there, not Bedouin. They were -- would appear to have been -- town dwellers. You saw 4x4s, jewelry. This is one of those routes that we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country.

We have consistently talked inside this forum about the foreign fighter flow. This was, clearly -- the intelligence we had suggested that this was a foreign fighter rat line, as we call them, at one of the way stations.

We conducted military operations down there last night. The ground force that swept through the objective found a significant amount of material and intelligence which validated that attack. And we are satisfied at this point that the intelligence that led us there was validated by what we found on the ground -- and it was not that there was a wedding party going on.

QUESTION: One question for each of you, please. Dan, you said earlier in this press conference, quote, "We really don't have anything to do with the investigation or the arrests," end quote, relating to Ahmed Chalabi and his associates. Are we to infer that Ambassador Bremer only learned about this operation today? And if not, when did he learn about this operation?

SENOR: He learned about the investigation when it was effectively completed. And it was referred to him because those leading the investigation wanted it referred to the Central Criminal Court.

And this procedural matter, he referred it, which is what he does with almost all of these cases, when they reach the stage that they're ready to move into court.

As to when he knew about the actual operation, he was notified today by an aide who was notified -- I think, someone from the governing council notified one of his aides to let him know that this operation occurred, and that's when Ambassador Bremer learned of it.

QUESTION: But you're saying that he did not have any affect whatsoever indirect or direct on the timing?

SENOR: Sure, he knew the investigation. He was aware of the investigation. But he was not involved in the operation, did not follow that the operation (inaudible) today. He was notified after the fact.

QUESTION: General Kimmitt, sir, there was footage shown on Associated Press Television Network yesterday that seemed to depict civilians who were purportedly killed in the incident near the Syrian border.

Is the military disputing that any civilians were killed? There were graphic images of dead children. Does the military have a position on whether these children were killed in this incident?

KIMMITT: The persons that we had on the ground did not find -- and they were on the ground for an extensive period of time -- they did not find any dead children among the casualties of that engagement.

QUESTION: Did they find any people who were not suspected to be involved in this foreign fighter cell?

KIMMITT: I'm sorry. I have problems with double negatives. Say again.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Is everyone who was killed believed to have been involved in this foreign fighter cell?

KIMMITT: At this point, the intelligence that we have and the intelligence that we drew on to conduct this operation was sufficient for us to believe to conduct that operation. We believe that we operated within the rules of engagement for that operation.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There have been two years for Iraq and the Iraqi people are suffering from outages. This is not a very difficult issue for the United States. My question to General Kimmitt, can you give us a statistic about the Iraqis and the Americans killed in Karbala and Najaf?

SENOR: Are you talking about electrical -- electricity outages? Power outages?

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes. She's talking about electrical outages.

SENOR: We are in a situation now where we've exceeded prewar levels in terms of electrical generation. When we arrived here, Iraq was generating something like 300 megawatts of power a day and the prewar levels, as many of you know, was approximately 4,200 to 4,400, which we exceeded in October of last year.

Even when Iraq is generating its prewar peak, which was 4,200 to 4,400 megawatts, it's only meeting two-thirds of the country's demand. The country needs 6,000 megawatts.

So even under Saddam Hussein, the government was only generating two-thirds of the country's demand. Many parts of the country had very severe power outages.

Now, you may have lived in Baghdad which had it far less worse than other parts of the country. Some areas like Basra, under the former regime, were sometimes getting two, three, four, five hours of power a day. Baghdad, I think, ranged, depending, 18 hours and up.

What we first tried to do is, as I said, rebuild the infrastructure -- the electrical infrastructure -- we've dedicated -- the largest area of the funding we're dedicating to the reconstruction of Iraq is in the area of electrical infrastructure.

We first tried to equalize the situation. So Saddam Hussein used essential services as a tool of oppression. He gave some areas a lot of power, and he gave -- electrical power -- and he gave some areas virtually none. We've tried to equalize it.

Then what we've tried to do is reach the overall prewar levels. As I said, we did that last October after spending a lot of money and doing a lot of work. It was work that involved American civilian engineers, coalition military forces working side by side with Iraqi engineers to get this done. It was a real milestone.

And now our focus is on reaching the country's demand, which is 6,000 megawatts. So we have to get to about another 1,500 to 1,600 megawatts of power here, which is not easy. And it will be far higher than the electrical power that was generated in this country at any time in the last 35 years.

Our goal for that is some time this summer, to get to 6,000 megawatts this summer.

And even though the Coalition Provisional Authority and Ambassador Bremer leaves here on June 30th, we are still going to have civilian reconstruction resources, both in terms of individuals and dollars and other resources on the ground here that will stay after June 30th to get this job done.

KAGAN: We've been listening into today's daily briefing from Baghdad, the Coalition Provisional Authority. Dan Senor, the spokesman there, and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. A lot of questions today about the raid on ahmad chalabi's home. He, of course, of the Iraqi Governing Council, also of the Iraqi National Conference. Dan Senor brushing off a lot of those questions, saying that it was Iraqi police conducting that raid. We'll have much more on that story ahead here on CNN, also a lot of quesitons about the U.S. military attack on a site in Western Iraq. Several weapons were found on that site. Forty people were killed, including a number of children. We heard General Kimmitt say that it's not something that just fell out of the sky. He believes there was a lot of intelligence that lead to that attack, and they beileve that that was a safehouse for insurgents in western Iraq. Many on the ground in Iraq saying, civilians saying that was a wedding party that was fired upon. Also much more from Bagdhad from that just aheaqd.

Other news of the day is coming up, along with weather and business news. We'll take a break. We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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